Love, Israeli Style

Marriage comes with a different set of rules in ‘Fill the Void’

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“Fill the Void,” opening Friday, takes place in a world unknown to many Americans — an Orthodox Hasidic Jewish community in Tel Aviv. When 18-year-old Shira’s (Hadas Yaron) pregnant sister dies in childbirth, her mother urges Shira to marry her sister’s widower to keep him and his son close to home. Writer-director Rama Burshtein (herself Orthodox) used the film to explore family, love and marriage within the insular community.

Much of the film focuses on women’s desire to get married. Why is marriage so important to this community?
Isn’t that the most important thing ever? To find the one you love, to have that spouse? For us, it’s just a different set of rules, but the emotion itself is the same.

The rules you talk about are pretty strange to some eyes, though. In the film, people are expected to decide whether to get married or not after meeting once.
When you go on a blind date, you just look for chemistry. When you go on a date like [the Orthodox community does], you’re trying to see “is this the man you’re going to spend the rest of your life with?” The focus is totally different. It’s about seeing way, way further. It’s not about me saying, “Oh, I don’t know if he’s going to be there tomorrow.” It’s about seeing if he’s going to be there forever.

Rama Burshtein
Rama Burshtein

You call the film a “romantic drama,” but the two leading characters never even touch.
Passion is only for something you don’t have. And the hard thing is to be passionate, wanting something and not grabbing it. For a minute, it’s satisfying, and then it’s dead. Whatever romantic thing you would have after would not be so alive anymore, because it’s done. I was doing the opposite.

So they won’t be living happily ever after?
Happy ever after? No. There’s no happy. It’s about all of it together. It’s about the real thing.

Sundown Shutdown

Because of Burshtein’s religion, “Fill the Void” was not screened in Israel from sundown Fridays to sundown Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath, during its run — even though it’s prime moviegoing time. Despite that, the film topped the Israeli box office in 2012 and won seven Ophirs, the Israeli Oscars. K.P.K.

Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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